Palette Architecture have fused traditional and contemporary with a cube extension that brings new volume to a classic and historic New York brownstone.
New York based firm Palette Architecture transformed a late-1800s Italianate townhouse located in Brooklyn, NY. After previous owners stripped away the original details, partitions, and materials, the building’s spirit had become muddled.
The design brief for Cube House called for the revitalization of the building’s original character, with contemporary connections to history and nature. Here, Peter Miller, a Partner at Palette Architecture, discusses the interior architecture that was unique to this project and the design decisions that created a more energy-efficient home.
Where did the conversation with the client begin and what was their brief?
The client sought to hire a builder-architect collaboration to restore their late-1800s Italianate townhouse. They selected Palette Architecture and Grant Davis Thompson Inc. because of their experience collaborating in design and construction and their reputation for delivering highly-detailed residential projects. The design brief called for the revitalization of the original building character with a new extension that would allow for formal and informal social spaces on multiple floors. The client wanted a design that would respect the historical context while providing contemporary connections to nature.
Can you tell us about the new “cube” element of the design?
The enlargement is a perfect cube that allows for a variety of outdoor spaces, and the carefully crafted openings accentuate connections to nature. The upper face of the cube features a large, asymmetrical skylight that provides a tangible connection to the exterior environment, allowing residents to track the passage of time and weather from the interior. The rear face of the cube features four full-length doors and a curtain wall that faces onto a sunken brick court and manicured gardens beyond. The interior surface adjoins the existing house through a portal in the rear wall that reveals the contrasting qualities of the parlor and garden levels.
Can you talk about the use of materials throughout?
The material palette is composed of natural and raw materials to accentuate the original characteristics of the house. Light oaks, marbles, copper fixtures, and pastel paints complement the remaining original masonry and plaster details. The material palette seeks to find complimentary connections between the new and old materials through depth and texture. In contrast, the new materials were given simplified forms to distinguish them from the original elements and suggest a more contemporary type of living.
How did you tackle issues surrounding sustainability?
The fenestration products on this project were designed and selected to minimize solar heat gain and maximize energy efficiency. Large windows are arranged along the North façade to maximize daylighting and minimize direct solar gain. The steel windows use highly efficient, thermally-broken mullions and Low-E coated glass to achieve very low U-values. The skylight is equipped with an automated solar-reflective shade to reduce heat gain during mid-day. The use of interior glazing provides natural daylighting throughout the house, while high-efficacy fixtures provide light in the evening. The house employs energy-efficient mechanical systems and insulation, including a specially-designed system for the glass-enclosed wine room.
What was the most challenging part about this project?
The client was particularly demanding regarding the design of interior details. They wanted congruity of detailing between the millwork and mouldings, the hardware, and handrails. Close collaboration between the design and construction team was critical to achieving the design vision. Craftspeople were involved in the design phase to assist with specific details. Through mock-ups and samples, the design and build team achieved client buy-in and met the design schedule.
How would you describe this project in three words?
Interconnected. Artisan. Revitalized.